Claudio Monteverdi, 1567-1643

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Selected Recordings

Madrigal
Lamento della Ninfa

Opera
Lamento d’Arianna

Sacred Music
Missa in illo tempore

Selected Sheet Music

Filli cara e amata

Il primo libro di madrigali
1587

Fili cara-1

Showcase Piece

Non si levav’ancor (Madrigal, Book II)

Notes and Commentary

Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi “was the first composer to write operas with a full awareness of the artistic potential of this musico-framatic genre; he was the first musical dramatist. He created the first opera that a present-day audience can listen to with appreciation and pleasure. We can, therefore, readily understand why his contemporaries should have referred to him as ‘music’s prophet.'”—David EwenThe Complete Book of Classical Music

“Claudio Monteverdi’s brilliant output spanned the formative period of Baroque music. [He was] more a culmination than a creator of a new style.”—Claude Palisca,  Baroque Music (3rd Edition)

“Baroque ‘Modernist’ of harmony; first opera composer.”—Phil GouldingClassical Music

Monteverdi was an Italian composer, gambist, singer, and Roman Catholic priest. His work, often regarded as revolutionary, marked the transition from the Renaissance style of music to that of the Baroque period. He developed two individual styles of composition: 1) the heritage of Renaissance polyphony, and 2) the new basso continuo technique of the Baroque. He wrote one of the earliest operas, L’Orfeo, an innovative work that is still regularly performed. He was recognized as an innovative composer and enjoyed considerable fame in his lifetime. His works are split into three categories: madrigals, operas, and church-music, also known as sacred music.

Madrigals. Until the age of forty, Monteverdi worked primarily on madrigals, composing a total of nine books. It took him about four years to finish his first book of twenty-one madrigals for five voices. As a whole, the first eight books of madrigals show the enormous development from Renaissance polyphonic music to the monodic style typical of Baroque music.

Operas. Monteverdi composed at least eighteen operas over the course of is life, but only L’Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, L’incoronazione di Poppea, and the famous aria, Lamento, from his second opera, L’Arianna, have survived. During the last years of his life, Monteverdi was often ill. During this time, he composed his two last masterpieces: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses, 1640), and the historic opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea, (The Coronation of Poppea, 1642), based on an episode in the life of the Roman emperor Nero. The libretto for Il ritorno d’Ulisse was by Giacomo Badoarro and for L’incoronazione di Poppea by Giovanni Busenello.

Church music. Monteverdi’s first church music publication was the archaic Mass In illo tempore to which the Vesper Psalms of 1610 were added. The Vesper Psalms of 1610 are also one of the best examples of early repetition and contrast, with many of the parts having a clear ritornello. The published work is on a very grand scale and there has been some controversy as to whether all the movements were intended to be performed in a single service. However, there are various indications of internal unity. In its scope, it foreshadows such summits of Baroque music as Handel’s Messiah, and J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion. Each part (there are twenty-five in total) is fully developed in both a musical and dramatic sense – the instrumental textures are used to precise dramatic and emotional effect, in a way that had not been seen before.

He lived from May 15, 1567, to November 29, 1643.—Excerpted from Wikipedia

Books and Music

Selected Books
Opera’s First Master: The Musical Dramas of Claudio Monteverdi
Amadeus Press, 2006
Mark Ringer
$21.86 on Amazon
Used copies for $9.99

Opera First

“In part this book is a short biography of Monteverdi. And in part it discusses his place as the originator of opera as we know it today. But mostly it’s about the three surviving operas that he wrote: L’Orfeo (Orpheus, 1607), Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland, 1640), and L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea, 1643). The stated purpose of the book is not to treat these works as merely a part of operatic history but as the vital theatrical experiences that they are.”—John Matlock, from Amazon

The Letters of Claudio Monteverdi
Oxford University Press (second edition), 1995
Denis Stevens (trans.)
$290.57 on Amazon
Used from $156.14

claudio ltrs
“Along with Stevens’s generous annotations, these letters stand as a compelling documentary biography. No student or scholar of 17th-century music can ignore this collection.”–Choice

Monteverdi music books

Selected Music

claudio-innovator The Innovator (2012), 10-CD boxed set

Guerrieri Madrigali Guerrieri et Amorosi (1999), 2-CD set

L'Orfeo L’Orfeo/John Eliot Gardiner, et. al. (1990), 2-CD set

More Claudio Monteverdi music

Complete Works

Excerpted from Wikipedia

Monteverdi’s works are split into three categories: madrigals, operas, and church-music.

Madrigals

Until the age of forty, Monteverdi worked primarily on madrigals, composing a total of nine books. It took Monteverdi about four years to finish his first book of twenty-one madrigals for five voices. As a whole, the first eight books of madrigals show the enormous development from Renaissancepolyphonic music to the monodic style typical of Baroque music.

Book 1, 1587: Madrigali a cinque voci

  • Book 2, 1590: Il secondo libro de madrigali a cinque voci
  • Book 3, 1592: Il terzo libro de madrigali a cinque voci
  • Book 4, 1603: Il quarto libro de madrigali a cinque voci
  • Book 5, 1605: Il quinto libro de madrigali a cinque voci
  • Book 6, 1614: Il sesto libro de madrigali a cinque voci
  • Book 7, 1619: Concerto. Settimo libro di madrigali
  • Book 8, 1638: Madrigali guerrieri, et amorosi con alcuni opuscoli in genere rappresentativo, che saranno per brevi episodi fra i canti senza gesto.
  • Book 9, 1651: Madrigali e canzonette a due e tre voci

The Fifth Madrigal Book

The Fifth Book of Madrigals shows the shift from the late Renaissance style of music to the early Baroque. The Quinto Libro (Fifth Book), published in 1605, was at the heart of the controversy between Monteverdi and Giovanni Artusi. Artusi attacked the “crudities” and “license” of the modern style of composing, centering his attacks on madrigals (including Cruda Amarilli, composed around 1600) (See Fabbri, Monteverdi, p. 60) from the fourth book. Monteverdi made his reply in the introduction to the fifth book, with a proposal of the division of musical practice into two streams, which he called prima pratica, and seconda praticaPrima pratica was described as the previous polyphonic ideal of the sixteenth century, with flowing strict counterpoint, prepared dissonance, and equality of voices.Seconda pratica used much freer counterpoint with an increasing hierarchy of voices, emphasizing soprano and bass. In Prima pratica the harmony controls the words. In Seconda pratica the words should be in control of the harmonies. This represented a move towards the new style of monody. The introduction of continuo in many of the madrigals was a further self-consciously modern feature. In addition, the fifth book showed the beginnings of conscious functional tonality.

The Eighth Madrigal Book

While in Venice, Monteverdi also finished his sixth (1614), seventh (1619), and eighth (1638) books of madrigals. The eighth is the largest, containing works written over a thirty-year period. Originally the work was to be dedicated to Ferdinand II, but because of his ill health, his son was made king in December 1636. When the work was first published in 1638 Monteverdi rededicated it to the new King Ferdinand III. The eighth book includes the so-calledMadrigali dei guerrieri et amorosi (Madrigals of War and Love).

The important preface of Monteverdi’s eighth madrigal book seems to be connected with his seconda pratica. He claims to have invented a new “agitated” style (Genere concitato, later called Stile concitato). 

The book is divided into sections of War and Love each containing madrigals, a piece in dramatic form (genere rappresentativo), and a ballet. In the Madrigals of War, Monteverdi has organized poetry that describes the pursuits of love through the allegory of war; the hunt for love, and the battle to find love. In the second half of the book, theMadrigals of Love, Monteverdi organized poetry that describes the unhappiness of being in love, unfaithfulness, and ungrateful lovers who feel no shame. In his previous madrigal collections, Monteverdi usually set poetry from one or two poets he was in contact with through the court where he was employed. The Madrigals of War and Loverepresent an overview of the poets he has dealt with throughout his life; the classical poetry of Petrarch, poetry by his contemporaries (Tasso, Guarini, Marino, Rinuccini, Testi and Strozzi), or anonymous poets who Monteverdi found and adapted to his needs.

Madrigals of War

  1. Altri canti d’Amor tenero arciero (Let others sing of Love, the tender archer) anonymous sonnet
    1. is preceded by a sinfonia introduction that is written for two violins and four viols. The madrigal that follows serves as an introduction to the first half of the collection and as a dedication to Ferdinand III.
  2. Hor che’l ciel e la terra e’l vento tace (Now that the sky, earth and wind are silent) Sonnet by Petrarch,
    1. is the first significant poetic work of the collection in which Monteverdi splits into two sections. In the first section, his poetry introduces the idea of the wars of love, in which he yearns for someone to love him.
      1. War is my condition full of anger and grief, and only when thinking of her do I find some peace.
      2. In the second section, “Thus from a single bright and living fountain” (Cosi sol d’una chiara fonte viva) the symbolism of war continues:
        1. One hand alone cures me and wounds me. And, because my suffering never reaches its limits, a thousand times daily I die, and a thousand I am born, so far am I from my salvation.
      3. Gira il nemico insidioso Amore (The insidious enemy, Love, circles the citadel of my heart) canzonetta by Strozzi
      4. Se vittorie si belle han le guerre d’amore (If love’s wars have such beautiful victories) madrigal by Testi
      5. Armato il cor d’adamanina fede (My heart armed with adamantine faith) madrigal by Rinuccini
      6. Ogni amante e guerrier: nel suo gran regno (Every lover is a warrior: in his great kingdom) madrigal by Rinuccini
      7. Ardo, avvampo, mi struggo, ardo: accorrete (I burn, I blaze, I am consumed, I burn; come running) anonymous sonnet
      8. Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (The Combat of Tancredi and Clorinda) from Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, Canto XII
        1. was originally composed and performed at the home of Girolamo Mocenigo (1624) and includes the dramatic scene in which the orchestra and voices form two separate entities, acting as counterparts. Most likely Monteverdi was inspired to try this arrangement because of the two opposite balconies in San Marco. What made this composition also stand out is the first-time use of string tremolo (fast repetition of the same tone) and pizzicato (plucking strings with fingers) for special effect in dramatic scenes.
      9. Introduzione al ballo e ballo: Volgendo il ciel (Introduction to the ballet, and ballet) sonnet by Rinuccini

      Madrigals of Love

      1. Altri canti di Marte e di sua schiera (Let others sing of Mars and of his host) sonnet by Marino
        1. the parallel work to Altri canti d amor, it serves as an introduction to the second half of the collection. Like its counterpart, it, too, is preceded by an instrumental sinfonia and contains a dedication to Ferdinand III.
      2. Vago augelletto che cantando vai (Lovely little bird, who are you singing about?) sonnet by Petrarch
      3. Mentre vaga angioletta (While a charming, angelic girl attracts every wellborn soul with her singing) madrigal by Guarini
      4. Ardo e scoprir, ahi lasso, io non ardisco (I burn and, alas, I do not have the courage to reveal that burning which I bear hidden in my breast) anonymous madrigal
      5. O sia tranquillo il mare o pien d’orgoglio (Whether the sea be still or swelled with pride) anonymous sonnet
      6. Ninfa che, scalza il piede e sciolto il crine (Nymph, who with bare feet and hair undone) anonymous madrigal
      7. Dolcissimo uscignolo (Sweetest nightingale) madrigal by Guarini
      8. Chi vol haver felice e lieto il core (Whoever wishes to have a happy joyful heart) madrigal by Guarini
      9. Non Havea Febo ancora: Lamento della ninfa (Phoebus had not yet: The Lament of the Nymph) canzonetta by Rinuccini
      10. Perche te n fuggi, o Fillide? (Why do you run away, Phyllis?) anonymous madrigal
      11. Non partir, ritrosetta (Do not depart, maiden averse to love) anonymous canzonetta
      12. Su, Su, Su, pastorelli vezzosi (Come, come, come, charming shepherd lads) anonymous canzonetta
      13. Il Ballo delle ingrate (Entrance and Final ballet of the Ungrateful Women)
        1. The Ballet of the Ungrateful Women was originally composed for the 1608 wedding of Francesco Gonzaga and was revived in 1628 for a performance in Vienna.

      The Ninth Madrigal Book

      The ninth book of madrigals, published posthumously in 1651, contains lighter pieces such as canzonettas which were probably composed throughout Monteverdi’s lifetime representing both styles.

      Operas

      During the last years of his life, Monteverdi was often ill. During this time, he composed his two last masterpieces: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses, 1640), and the historic opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea, (The Coronation of Poppea, 1642), based on an episode in the life of the Romanemperor Nero. The libretto for Il ritorno d’Ulisse was by Giacomo Badoarro and for L’incoronazione di Poppea by Giovanni Busenello.

      L’Orfeo

      Monteverdi composed at least eighteen operas, but only L’OrfeoIl ritorno d’Ulisse in patriaL’incoronazione di Poppea, and the famous aria, Lamento, from his second opera L’Arianna have survived. From monody (with melodic lines, intelligible text and placid accompanying music), it was a logical step for Monteverdi to begin composing opera. In 1607, the premiere of his first opera, L’Orfeo, took place in Mantua. L’Orfeo was not the first opera, but the first mature opera, or one that realized all of its potential. It was normal at that time for composers to create works on demand for special occasions, and this piece was part of the ducal celebrations of carnival. (Monteverdi was later to write for the first opera houses supported by ticket sales which opened in Venice). L’Orfeo has dramatic power and lively orchestration. L’Orfeo is arguably the first example of a composer assigning specific instruments to parts in operas. It is also one of the first large compositions in which the exact instrumentation of the premiere has come down to us. The plot is described in vivid musical pictures and the melodies are linear and clear. With this opera, Monteverdi created an entirely new style of music, the dramma per la musica or musical drama.

      L’Arianna

      L’Arianna was the second opera written by Monteverdi. It is one of the most influential and famous specimens of early Baroque opera. It was first performed in Mantua in 1608. Its subject matter was the ancient Greek legend of Ariadne and Theseus.

      Sacred music

      Vespro della Beata Vergine

      Monteverdi’s first church music publication was the archaic Mass In illo tempore to which the Vesper Psalms of 1610 were added. The Vesper Psalms of 1610 are also one of the best examples of early repetition and contrast, with many of the parts having a clear ritornello. The published work is on a very grand scale and there has been some controversy as to whether all the movements were intended to be performed in a single service. However, there are various indications of internal unity. In its scope, it foreshadows such summits of Baroque music as Handel‘s Messiah, and J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion. Each part (there are twenty-five in total) is fully developed in both a musical and dramatic sense – the instrumental textures are used to precise dramatic and emotional effect, in a way that had not been seen before.

      • Messa in illo tempore (1610)
      • Mass of Thanksgiving (1631)
      • Messa a 4 da cappella (1641) (also: Missa in F), part of Selva morale e spirituale
      • Messa a 4 v. et salmi a 1–8 v. e parte da cappella & con le litanie della B.V. (Mass for four voices, and Psalms …) (published posthumously, 1650)

      Other Works

      • Scherzi Musicali

      Sacred contrafacta

      In 1607, Aquilino Coppini published in Milan his “Musica tolta da i Madrigali di Claudio Monteverde, e d’altri autori … e fatta spirituale” for 5 and 6 voices, in which many of Monteverdi’s madrigals (especially from the third, fourth and fifth books) are presented with the original secular texts replaced with sacred Latin contrafacta carefully prepared by Coppini in order to fit the music in every aspect.

      Excerpted from Wikipedia

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      Painting of Monteverdi (1640), at top of page, by Bernardo Strozzi. Creative Commons.

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